Richard Bullock, WWT Biodiversity Officer
The importance of wildlife recording first dawned on me in my late teens. During the early 1980s, I volunteered, at a Shropshire site called Stoneyhill, to look for three species of clubmoss ferns. Remarkably, they included alpine clubmoss – a species not recorded in the county since 1726. Being exceptional county rarities, their discovery enabled the Telford Development Corporation ecologist to suggest mitigation measures ahead of an impending development. Here, perhaps, was an early example of wildlife recording shaping the outcome of a development.
Meanwhile, during the 1980s, Prof. David Goode and his highly respected team at the London Ecology Unit successfully developed the evaluation scheme from which Londoners now derive the wildlife importance of the majority of their local green spaces. Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation, or SINCs, now shape and influence borough local plans. This was largely a result of the important recording work undertaken by London Wildlife Trust and London Natural History Society (LNHS) for the London wildlife habitat survey. The network of green spaces and corridors identified as SINCs created an early framework for the capital very much in the spirit of Sir John Lawton’s “Making Space for Nature”1 and the All London Green Grid a quarter of a century later.
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) first took up its London residence at Barn Elms Reservoir in the early 1990s. As a Site of Metropolitan Importance and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the new London Wetland Centre already had a legacy of wildlife recording including the national wildfowl counts undertaken since 1951.
As WWT site ecologist, I have been actively involved with a host of WWT volunteers, specialist recorders and partnership organisations and in a variety of monitoring surveys of key species over the past 20 plus years: the London and Surrey Bird Clubs; Bat Conservation Trust and London Bat Group; Surrey Amphibian and Reptile Group; the Natural History Museum; Butterfly Conservation; the British Dragonfly Society; the Surrey Botanical Society; the London Fungus Group; a multitude of LNHS recorders; etc.
Having wildlife records checked by these experts guarantees a threshold of quality assurance before data are forwarded to GiGL. Furthermore, long-term monitoring can determine how well certain species are faring over time (e.g. bats – Briggs et al. 20072, Mayfield et al. 20173).
During the mid 1990s, WWT became one of the founding members of the London Biodiversity Partnership. As well as identifying a range of priority habitats and species requiring effective action plans, the partnership recognised the need for a biological records centre for Greater London. So it was that GiGL’s precursor came into being, hosted by the London Wildlife Trust, with approval from the partnership, which importantly included statutory organisations such as the Greater London Authority, Natural England and Environment Agency.
The benefits of GiGL’s growing bank of wildlife information are many, including: informing developers, local government and statutory authorities about matters of sustainability, distribution and the status of priority and protected habitats and species; a resource for pinpointing opportunities for habitat creation and restoration; a research tool for habitat mapping, species baseline atlases, wildlife resource audits, etc.; and a measure for the wealth and health of nature not only in London, but also nationally. The most recent examples of this are the “State of Nature” reports (e.g. Hayhow et al. 20164, Waite 20175), which we trust are still sending wake up ripples into the very heart of local and national governance.
For me, the joy of recording is multifaceted. It is seeing the first brimstone butterfly of spring; hearing the joyous song of the skylark; or seeing swaying swathes of smiling ox-eye daisy. However, perhaps too, we should all take heart, knowing that the records we make and send onto our wildlife recorders and to GiGL, really can make a difference – helping to influence the shape of London.
1.Lawton. J. 2010. Making Space for Nature: A Review of England’s Wildlife Sites and Ecological Network. A report submitted to the Secretary of State, Defra.↩
2.Briggs, P. A., Bullock, R. J. & Tovey, J. D. 2007. Ten years of bat monitoring at the WWT London Wetland Centre – a comparison with National Bat Monitoring Programme trends for Greater London. The London Naturalist, 86: 47-70.↩
3.Mayfield, H. J., Bullock, R. J., Briggs, P. A., Faulkner, S. C. & Hilton, G. M. 2017. Twenty years of bat monitoring at the London Wetland Centre: showing the biodiversity value of a man-made urban reserve. The London Naturalist, 96: 102-114.↩
4.Hayhow, D.B., Burns, F., Eaton, M.A., Al Fulaij, N., August, T.A., Babey, L., Bacon, L., Bingham, C., Boswell, J., Boughey, K.L., Brereton, T., Brookman, E., Brooks, D.R., Bullock, D.J., Burke, O., Collis, M., Corbet, L., Cornish, N., De Massimi, S., Densham, J., Dunn, E., Elliott, S., Gent, T., Godber, J., Hamilton, S., Havery, S., Hawkins, S., Henney, J., Holmes, K., Hutchinson, N., Isaac, N.J.B., Johns, D., Macadam, C.R., Mathews, F., Nicolet, P., Noble, D.G., Outhwaite, C.L., Powney, G.D., Richardson, P., Roy, D.B., Sims, D., Smart, S., Stevenson, K., Stroud, R.A., Walker, K.J., Webb, J.R., Webb, T.J., Wynde, R. and Gregory, R.D. 2016. State of Nature 2016. The State of Nature partnership.↩
5.Waite, M. 2017. The State of Surrey’s Nature. Surrey Nature Partnership.↩